Italian fire stations are to be opened to the elderly for six weeks in the height of the summer. The initiative comes following the exceptionally hot summer of 2003, when elderly people, who had remained in towns and cities all over Italy during the holiday period, found it difficult to find cool places where they could meet their friends and socialize.

More than 700 fire stations will be open from 20 July until the end of August from 08.00 20.00 every day to any elderly self-sufficient person who likes to turn up. Food and drink will be available and the visitors will be free to use the recreational facilities usually used only by firemen off-duty or on standby. There will be television, radio, billiards, card games and, above all, company. Half of the fire stations in question have air conditioning.

To finance this initiative the fire brigade has decided to spend money that is usually used for their annual "festa"; last year the celebrations nationwide cost in the region of 200,000.

Mario Morcone head of the fire service said "We do not pretend to be able to solve the problem of loneliness and the elderly, but we are willing to help with friendliness and human kindness." The minister for the Interior, Giuseppe Pisanu, is enthusiastic about the idea and hopes that other institutions and organisations will follow this example.